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’80s Worshippers Pale Waves Keep Building Compelling Music From Familiar Parts

The sounds of the ’80s have been a contemporary pop music fixation for years now, whether an act started out by emulating the aesthetic or shifted their image altogether. But Manchester’s Pale Waves might as well be from the actual ’80s. Where some others, such on Paramore on their great After Laughter, use the era to disguise emotions that are all too modern, Pale Waves are openhearted to a fault.

Almost of all their songs include words like “honey,” “heart,” “love,” and “die” in close proximity, and almost all of their songs follow a similar structure. Like any good ’80s revivalists, they turn matters of the heart into matters of life and death, where the slightest inkling of love turns into an intense, all-consuming obsession. Even a casual fling on New Year’s Eve morphs into “you’re the best thing that’s happened to me.” Their song “My Obsession,” released late last year, still has that same intensity, even though its inspiration is less melodramatic and more heartbreaking—there, frontwoman Heather Baron-Gracie promises “when death comes you’ll sure be heaven’s obsession.”

Nothing much has changed about their music or presentation since they debuted last year with the single “There’s a Honey”. (The only real shift has been on the production end—the first few singles were produced by the 1975’s Matt Healy and George Daniel, while everything since has been produced with Jonathan Gilmore, former collaborator with 1975 producer Mike Crossey.) That’s not a bad thing, though, as all the songs are consistent. Their latest single, the new-wavy “Kiss,” isn’t a drop in quality, though it doesn’t necessarily raise the bar either. There’s another mention of “heaven”, another three-chord progression, another heavily processed drum sound, another comparison of love to something water-related. This song’s “You’re a wave of a dream / Your love is clean” is essentially a previous single’s “I’ll be the sea, honey / and you’ll be the tide.”

What keeps the formula from growing too stale is that the emotions at the center come off as genuine, even as they too rely on the same kinds of jangly guitar riffs and gothic/water-based vocabulary (though, to be fair, it’s in their name) that they’ve had from the beginning. “Just kiss me hard like you did at the start / Kiss me hard just like I’m breaking your heart” is as memorable as “I would give you my body / but I’m not sure if you want me” was on “There’s a Honey,” so even if the lyrics and choruses ultimately feel interchangeable from song to song, Pale Waves continues to create compelling pop music from those parts.

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